Why Does My Raw Chicken Smell Bad? (Is It OK?)

Have you ever opened a sealed pack of raw chicken from the grocery store or butchers just to find out it absolutely stinks, even when it’s nowhere close to the best before date! 

What gives?

Well, as it turns out there are a few possible reasons why your raw chicken can smell bad, and it doesn’t always mean your raw chicken has spoiled! 

Here’s whether it’s normal for raw chicken to have a smell, why it can smell bad, and how you know your raw chicken is actually off. 

I’m not going to sit here and tell you raw chicken is meant to smell like butterflies. But, fresh raw chicken shouldn’t smell like rotten eggs either.

In fact, fresh raw chicken shouldn’t really have a smell at all, or if it does it should be very mild, and certainly nothing unpleasant.

So, if your raw chicken does have somewhat of a smell to it, don’t immediately think it’s spoiled. There are actually quite a few reasons your raw chicken can smell, and it can come from how it’s been prepared, packaged, or vacuum sealed.

Why Does My Raw Chicken Smell Bad?

So, now you may be asking yourself: if my chicken isn’t past the expiry date, why does it smell so bad?

Well, if you’ve just cut open the packaging then there’s actually quite a normal explanation for it.

Aside from the type of chicken, it’s age, and it’s overall freshness, there are two leading reasons why your raw chicken can smell bad, and they are both to do with the type of packaging, and the process that happens.

These are:

Chicken On A Tray Wrapped In Plastic

When chicken, or most meats for that matter, are kept in a package starved of oxygen, the juices begin to discolor and develop a very foul odor. This can be likened to a tangy, eggy, sulphuric smell, which gets more and more intense the longer the chicken is starved of oxygen.

This is why when you first open the packaging you can sometimes get a whiff so bad you’d think something had died!

Usually this smell leaves the chicken after some time, but if the juices stay around then so does the smell.

Vacuum Sealed Chicken

The whole purpose of vacuum-sealing meats is to preserve them. The less oxygen that comes into contact with the chicken, the longer it will stay fresh.

Unfortunately, completely ridding the chicken of oxygen does quickly begin to develop some of these nasty smells we’ve been talking about.

Even after only a few days the chicken and chicken juices will inevitably smell.

Again, once you open the vacuum seal you’ll get the strongest smell, but it does subside after a while. The same can be said for vacuum-sealed turkey that smells!

So, if you’re fairly certain your chicken has not spoiled, is well within the best before date, and you’ve just opened up the package of chicken — then this smell you’re experiencing is nothing to be alarmed about.

But, if you have a suspicion the chicken is off, it’s past the expiry, or it’s been kept in unsatisfactory conditions then it’s not worth the risk.

How to Know If Raw Chicken Is Off?

So, if chicken can produce a bad smell when it’s been kept airtight for too long, how do you know when the smell is indicative that it’s actually off?

Well, if you do smell something that’s not quite right with your raw chicken, then you do some further investigation to see if it’s really off, or if it’s just been packaged for too long.

This can happen with any cut of chicken, from the breast, to the leg, drumstick, or thigh.

Here’s what to look for.

*Disclaimer: This is for informational purposes only, if you believe your raw chicken is off, you should never consume it, and always refer to the CDC guidelines for raw chicken. 

Color

Raw chicken should be a bright pink hue with any fat appearing white and the skin appearing whiteish/peach.

If the whole of your chicken or part of your chicken is gray, yellow, green, or any other funky color, then you should throw it away immediately as it’s clearly not right.

You may also see yellow spots on your chicken fat, which is a good indicator that somethings off too!

Smell

Although raw chicken can smell bad simply from being in packaging too long, if your raw chicken smells like rotten eggs, ammonia fish, or a clear sulphuric smell, then it’s a no-go.

Trust your gut with this one; if the smell is outer worldly, then it’s best you chuck it out!

Texture

Fresh chicken should have a shiny appearance and a moist, smooth feel. If your chicken is sticky or slimy, this is a sign it’s off or nearing its end!

Expiry Date

Always check the expiry date or best before date. Never consume chicken past this date as it’s simply not worth the risk, even if you cook it extra well-done to kill off the bacteria there’s still a chance you’ll get sick from it!

How To Fix Bad Smelling Raw Chicken That Isn’t Off

If you’re certain your chicken isn’t actually off, but it does have a distinctly pungent smell, then there are a few techniques you can use to get rid of the smell before you start cooking.

Particularly if it’s come from a vacuum sealed or air-tight plastic package, the smell is usually reversible, since it’s mainly stemming from the juices.

Using Vinegar

Vinegar is the most consistent and powerful way to remove any poultry smell from raw chicken. All you need to do is dry off your chicken with paper towels, then lightly cover your chicken with white vinegar.

After just a few minutes, simply rinse it off with a little bit of water, and dry it off again using more paper towels.

The vinegar works to extract any of the old juices causing the unpleasant smell on your chicken. I also recommend this method if you’ve got yourself some bad smelling pork ribs too!

Drying It Out

Because the strong poultry smell comes from the chicken juices that have been starved of oxygen, simply removing these juices usually gets rid of the majority of the smell.

So, the easiest way to deodorize the raw chicken is to simply pat them dry with paper towels and let them air dry for up to ten minutes.

This won’t completely get rid of the smell, but believe me, it will help!

Summary

First and foremost, you should abide by the CDC’s guidelines for raw chicken. Food poisoning from off chicken is no joke and it can even be fatal. If not you’ll have one of the worst times on the toilet that you’ve ever experienced.

Normally, fresh raw chicken should not have any distinctive “off” smell.

But, if you’re certain your chicken is not off, but has just developed a poultry smell from being deprived of oxygen in a vacuum sealed or air tight packaging, then you can take a few steps to remove most of that foul smell.

But remember, if you’re doubting yourself, it’s best to chuck the chicken to avoid any potential sickness!

For more guides on preparing chicken, check out the best knife to use for cutting raw chicken, or preparing chicken for large crowds, or why chicken wings have small hairs on them!

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